Holocaust Memorial Day
Genocide is not just an event in the past. It is happening now. Whole villages are being destroyed in Darfur, Sudan, in a war that has been going on for fifteen years, and the past few months have seen the eruption of mass violence and ‘ethnic cleansing’ against the Rohingya people in Myanmar.
Holocaust Memorial Day is a challenge to reflect on the atrocious things human beings are capable of doing to each other. Beginning with the Nazi holocaust of 1933-45, the remembrance now includes other genocides such as the fanatical ‘Year Zero’ project in Cambodia in the 1970s, the inter-tribal bloodbath in Rwanda in 1994 and the massacre of Muslims in Bosnia in 1995.
Genocide is of course only the extreme end of the spectrum of violence. Millions of people have suffered, and are still suffering, through war and terrorism.
Atrocities are not confined to one religion, ideology or nationality. Their perpetrators can be Christians, Communists, Muslims, Buddhists, Europeans, Asians or Africans, as can their victims. Nor are they caused only by exceptionally nasty people. The damage is often done by ordinary people doing their job or resisting what they perceive as a threat to their way of life. Rather than labelling particular individuals or nations as ‘evil’, we need to face the uncomfortable truth that the ability to hate and to kill is part of the human nature we all share.
At the same time, human beings are capable of rising to great acts of courage, reconciliation and generosity. Holocaust Memorial Day is an opportunity to remember the past constructively, to reflect on its lessons, and to commit ourselves to creating a better future.
Here at USW we are observing the day on Friday 26th January. The Reflection Room at the Meeting House will be open from 9.00 to 4.30, and there will be an opportunity for anyone to come and light a candle and/or spend some time in prayer or quiet reflection.
This, meaningful as it may be, is of course not enough. The suffering people of the world need more than our ‘thoughts and prayers’. They need our willingness to pursue justice, to speak and act on their behalf. They need our readiness to change our ways even if it costs us something. We can use Holocaust Memorial Day to do some practical thinking about how we ourselves can help to make a more peaceful and humane world. After all, If we are not part of the solution we are part of the problem.